Friday, September 03, 2010

Should they ban Jeffrey Shallit for bone-headedness?

Jeffrey Shallit at Recursivity complains that he was banned at Doug Groothius' site for being "pugnacious" in making the following comment on a passage Grootius quoted from C. S. Lewis:
Lewis didn't know anything about evolution. He didn't understand that what he called "morality" is a fact about human evolution; that we are programmed by evolution and culture to regard certain behaviors of others as acceptable and other behaviors as less so. Once this is understood, Lewis's confusion simply vanishes.
I don't see what's pugnacious about it. On the other hand, maybe Groothius also has a policy against bone-headedness, in which case I could see how this might violate the policy.

How does Shallit know that Lewis knew nothing about evolution? Has he read Lewis's books to determine this? That can't be, since no one who has read Lewis's books could say such a ridiculous thing about morality.

But Lewis's statements about evolution were tempered with caution on the grounds that he wasn't a scientist. Shallit clearly has no interest in the similar caution about making forays into philosophy, where he clearly is out of his water.

He did, however, pen this poem:
Lead us, Evolution, lead us
Up the future’s endless stair:
Chop us, change us, prod us, weed us
For stagnation is despair:
Groping, guessing, yet progressing,
Lead us nobody knows where.
In other words, Evolution (Lewis wryly capitalizes the word to indicate the religious fervor characteristic of its adherents) may be the thing that has brought about the complexity of things, but, by the admission of its own supporters, it has, by its very nature, no teleological principles, and therefore cannot be said to "progress," since progress, by definition, is the continuous movement toward some end.

Shallit, of course, thinks just such a thing.

Shallit is a computer scientist. And to someone who only has a hammer, everything looks like a nail. The only question is why Shallit, who thinks morality is just behavior that has been "programmed" into us by evolution and culture, should have any moral objection to Groothius banning him from his blog.

Is it wrong? So what? Some of us have just broken out of Shallit's programmatic moral matrix. Once we have done that, he can have absolutely nothing to say.

And saying nothing would have made a whole lot more sense than what he did say.


Anonymous said...

Clearly there are many articles that show that other animals have "morality". They do not need a god to tell them how to behave.

Religion clearly does not have the monopoly on morality given that non god believing societies are statistically better behaved.

Francis J. Beckwith said...

Anonymous, Lewis never argued that "religion has a monopoly on morality." He argued that the moral law requires a divine lawgiver. This means, of course, that atheists can know the moral law, but it also means that atheism cannot ground the moral law.

We can both enjoy the same meal while one of us denies the existence of the cook.

Anonymous, you seem to believe that a human being ought to accept only good arguments. How do you know that precept is true?

Martin Cothran said...


I will simply underscore Dr. Beckwith's point that you are not making a distinction between people behaving according to a moral standard and people having a rational justification for saying what the standard is according to which people should behave.

To say that non-believers can be "good" just like believers is not even a point of contention. The point of contention is whether nonbelievers can have a rational justification for saying there is any good at all.